Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

30 June 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

30 June 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

I will make this short, as I know that many of you have to follow the General Assembly meeting taking place right now.

**Press Stakeout/Conference Today

At 12:30 p.m. today, Olusegun Obasanjo, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on the Great Lakes Region, will hold a press encounter at the Security Council stakeout.

Later today, at about 1 p.m., at least we hope so, in this room, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, President of the General Assembly, and Manuel Zelaya, President of Honduras, will hold a joint press conference on the situation in Honduras.  We will confirm the time as soon as possible.  But this is the way it appears right now.  He is scheduled to start speaking in the General Assembly in about ten or 15 minutes.

**Secretary-General Statement - Georgia

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Georgia.

Following the lack of agreement of the Security Council to continue the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia, (UNOMIG), the Mission effectively ceased its functions as of 16 June 2009, and started its withdrawal.  The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude to the parties for their cooperation with the Mission since its establishment in 1993, and welcomes their expressed readiness to continue to extend their support to the Mission until its full withdrawal.

The Secretary-General affirms the readiness of the United Nations to continue its other key activities and remain engaged in the region.  To that end, he has asked his Special Representative, Johan Verbeke, to continue to represent the United Nations at the ongoing Geneva international discussions on security and stability and on the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.

**Secretary-General in Japan

The Secretary-General has arrived in Japan, where shortly on arrival, he had a meeting, as well as a working dinner, with Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone.  Speaking to the press afterward, he said that he and the Foreign Minister had discussed the implementation of the Security Council resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, UN-Japanese cooperation and the fight against piracy off the waters of Somalia.

On Myanmar, he said that he realized that there are concerns about the timing of his visit because the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still pending.  He said that he was very conscious of timing, but added that it had been a challenge to find the most appropriate time to come.

The Secretary-General stressed that the Government of Myanmar should release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; they should immediately resume the dialogue between the Government and opposition leaders; and they should also create an atmosphere, as well as a legal framework, conducive to credible elections.

He also urged the North Korean authorities to refrain from taking any further measures which may deteriorate the already very serious situation there.  We have the full transcript upstairs.

The Secretary-General has a full day tomorrow in Tokyo.  He will meet with Prime Minister Taro Aso, with Japanese business leaders, children, students, UN Goodwill Ambassadors and political leaders.

**Security Council

Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council in an open meeting today that the present situation in Afghanistan is complex, but, if it is managed well, could become a turning point to efforts to bring the conflict to an end.

He said that the elections in August will help to strengthen people’s confidence in the democratic process and strengthen Afghanistan’s institutions.  He has urged all candidates to campaign with dignity and fairness and called on the international community to avoid any interference in the election process.

Eide noted that the Secretary-General, in his recent report on Afghanistan, had appealed for a review of the operations by Special Forces.  Eide welcomed the commitment by the commander of the forces on the ground to a fundamental shift in attitude, and noted that the majority of civilian casualties is caused by the insurgency.

He promised the Security Council that he would provide a set of benchmarks for the UN Mission in Afghanistan’s progress by September.  We have his statement upstairs.  The open debate on Afghanistan is continuing, with 28 speakers inscribed.

Today is also the last day of the Turkish Presidency of the Security Council.  Uganda will assume the rotating Presidency of the Council for the month of July.

** Iraq

On his last day as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura congratulated the Government of Iraq on its steady progress towards the restoration of full sovereignty for the country, as well as for its efforts towards a more stable, democratic and unified Iraq.  He said, as US troops are redeploying outside of Iraqi cities, “What has been achieved is a real source for congratulation.”  De Mistura added that the primary responsibility for putting Iraq on an irreversible path towards lasting peace and development rests with its people, who are relying on their political leaders to put the needs of the State and of the people above all other interests.  We have his full statement upstairs.

Also today, UNICEF says that a $10 million project funded by the European Community to improve Iraq’s water and sanitation services is under way, and should improve water and sanitation for about 100,000 people in Iraq.

** Darfur

On Darfur, a number of Darfur rebel groups say they are ready to resume peace talks with the Government of Sudan.  That’s according to the Office of the Joint United Nations-African Union Chief Mediator.  According to his office, Djibril Bassolé met earlier today with the rebel leaders in Tripoli as part of his series of consultations with all the parties to the conflict.  They discussed the Doha peace talks and conditions for the rebels’ effective participation in the search for a solution to the crisis.

Bassolé’s office also reported that Doha will remain the venue for the Darfur peace process.  The Chief Mediator will soon propose a date for the resumption of the talks.

The Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) says a contingent of peacekeepers came under attack yesterday near their base in Geneina, in West Darfur.  One peacekeeper sustained a gunshot wound in the leg and is in a stable condition now.  The attackers remain unidentified.

The Mission also reports that an advance party of Ethiopian peacekeepers has arrived in Darfur by road from Ethiopia, an 1,800-kilometre trip.

** Somalia

In Somalia, a total of more than 170,000 people have been displaced from the capital, Mogadishu, since early May, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  The continuing displacements are the result of fresh fighting between Government forces and Islamist fighters.

OCHA is warning that a spell of drought is also endangering the livelihoods of more than 700,000 pastoralists.

Despite the on-going fighting and insecurity, OCHA reports that humanitarian agencies, including the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and the UN Children’s agency (UNICEF), have continued to provide urgently needed lifesaving assistance to the affected population.

WFP also reports that since late 2007, when naval escorts started protecting ships loaded with WFP food heading to Somalia, not a single ship carrying the agency’s food has been attacked by pirates.  This positive development has ensured that a vital lifeline to some 3.5 million needy people is kept open.

Under the European Union’s Atalanta operation, which started in December last year, WFP has been able to deliver more than 400,000 metric tons of food into Somalia, through Mogadishu, Merka, Bossaso, and Berbera ports.

WFP remains extremely grateful to the European Union for committing itself to escorting ships carrying WFP food for this year.

WFP is, however, worried about any rise in Somali piracy attacks against ships carrying humanitarian assistance and commercial cargoes to Mombasa port, in neighbouring Kenya.

**United Republic of Tanzania-Burundi

On Tanzania-Burundi refugees, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has welcomed a decision by the Tanzanian Government to give more time for the voluntary repatriation of some 36,000 Burundians living in the Mtabila refugee camp in north-western Tanzania.

This last remaining camp hosting Burundian refugees in Tanzania was scheduled for closure today, 30 June, when all its residents were expected to voluntarily repatriate home.

But the Tanzanian Government has announced that the refugees will now have the chance to plan their return home during the traditional high season for repatriation which runs to the end of September.

The Tanzanian Government has also given the assurance that no refugee will be forcibly repatriated.  We have more in a UNHCR press statement upstairs.

** Myanmar Refugees – Resettlement

Still on refugees, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees says one of the world’s largest resettlement programmes today passed a new milestone when the 50,000th Myanmar refugee left a camp in Thailand to begin a new life in the United States.

Resettlement from the nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border has been ongoing since 2004, but had received an enormous boost in early 2005 when the US offered to give new homes to refugees from the camps.

The refugees, most of whom had been in Thailand for more than 20 years, had not seen a realistic prospect of returning to Myanmar any time soon and were also not able to settle permanently in Thailand.

Some 112,000 registered Myanmar refugees remained in the nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border and UNHCR expected to resettle a further 6,000 to 7,000 of them in 2009.

** Syria

On the first visit ever of a UNICEF Executive Director to the Syrian Arab Republic, Ann Veneman met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Government ministers and First Lady Asma Akhras al-Assad, and she visited programmes assisting children, youth and Iraqi refugees.

“ Syria is recognizing the critical importance of investing in children and adolescents,” said Veneman.  “Yet challenges remain including ensuring quality education, providing opportunities for youth and addressing the impact of drought.”

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, the World Health Organization’s Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises, Eric Laroche, is currently in Pakistan.  He is there to support his agency’s efforts to help the approximately 2 million people who have been displaced by violence in the country’s north-west.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) additional financial resources are needed to strengthen disease control efforts.  Improving access to reproductive health services is also crucial.

WHO adds that more female health workers are needed to provide culturally sensitive health services to women and girls in Pakistan’s conflict-hit areas.

**OHCHR – Nepal Restructuring

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal will close its Western Regional Office in Nepal today, as part of its downsizing and restructuring.  As of 1 July, OHCHR-Nepal will have three regional offices, one sub-office and a project office, in addition to its headquarters.


On Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Timor-Leste and the country’s Prime Minister presided today over the ceremony marking the resumption of primary responsibilities by the Timorese National Police.

The Timorese Government and the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste, (UNMIT), are implementing the resumption process in a gradual manner based on joint assessments and on the preparedness of Timorese police in each district and unit.

The UN Police will maintain their presence in the districts where the national police have resumed responsibilities, in order to support, provide advice and to monitor the national police, including in the area of human rights protection.

**World Meteorological Organization

Available upstairs is a media kit for the World Climate Conference 3, to be held from 31 August to 4 September in Geneva.  The kit was launched in Geneva today by the World Meteorological Organization.  It provides information on this conference which will aim to initiate a Global Framework for Climate Services to boost climate adaptation.  And that’s upstairs if you need it.

And this is all I have for you today.  I’ll take your questions.  I won’t be long because I know that many of you have to head to different information venues in the building today.  Yes, any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Mr. De Mistura speaking about the progress the Iraqi people have made; any comment so far from any Iraqis regarding the support of the United Nations for this moment?

Spokesperson:  Well, it couldn’t come from me.  It wouldn’t come from us; it would come from the Iraqis.  So, we have to see what the Iraqis have to say, and I cannot convey that.  Yes, Tarek.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  The Human Rights Watch issued today a report about Israel’s violations of the international law in the Gaza war; killing civilians, using missiles by drones.  Do you have any statement on this?  And did Mr. Ban Ki-moon take note of these findings of the report?

Spokesperson:  Well, actually, you know that there is right now a human rights mission having hearings; I talked about it yesterday.  Judge Goldstone is the head of the mission sent by the Human Rights Council.  He’s just held open hearings in Gaza, which is a first, and he will be holding additional hearings in Geneva.  So this is an ongoing process, regarding the concerns on the violations of human rights in Gaza.  I don’t have anything to say about what Human Rights Watch says, because we have been talking about this for a long time; way before.

Question:  And do you any updates about the compensation supposed to be paid by Israel for the damages in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything further on this.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Michèle, Eve Ensler has an update today in the Washington Post that’s highly critical of MONUC and of the UN in terms of stopping rape in the Congo.  She says, among other things that, she quotes the SG’s commentary in the Herald Tribune of 8 March [inaudible] and says that the UN doesn’t do enough to arrest or have arrested rapists.  So I am thinking of…  It’s making me think of Bosco; and I wanted to ask you what the UN has done since last to ascertain what his role is in the Congolese Army; not only to make sure they don’t work with him, but to actually see that he is arrested for alleged rape as a war crime?

Spokesperson:  Well, I mean you know how difficult and how large the problem is.  The problem of rape being used as a weapon by militia and sometimes by unruly FARDC members is a problem that has been denounced over and over again.  The Secretary-General raised the issue with President Kabila himself and I think that has been widely reported.  In terms of the specific issues raised by Ms. Ensler, they are not new.  The fact that the UN is mandated by the Security Council to support the FARDC creates a situation in which it is sometimes difficult for the UN to separate itself from some of the issues.  In the case of Bosco, I think the UN has been very clear that the UN will not have any operations where Bosco is present.  So, I think this was clearly said.  In terms of arresting Bosco; it is the responsibility of the Congolese Army to arrest him.  So I think this is pretty clear, and all of us understand Ms. Ensler’s concern.

I mean, this is a catastrophic situation of women and girls being raped in the Congo and having rape used as a weapon of war.  And I think this has been a situation that has really created great, great concern and alarm, among, you know, the staff of the United Nations and the people responsible in the UN.  The Secretary-General himself spoke about it.  As you know he went to see that play which is playing right now; the Pulitzer winning play, which is titled, Ruined, and he met the whole crew and cast and talked about them about what he had seen in the Congo, about people he had met; women who had been victims.  And it is no doubt something which is foremost on the Secretary-General’s mind.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I have a slightly more mundane…  They just passed the Peacekeeping budget in the General Assembly.  And one of the issues about MONUC is whether they’d be getting drones; actually, UN–purchased unmanned aerial vehicles.  I don’t know if you know of that; what the implications of the budget that passed [inaudible] but if it’s possible to find out whether…

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any answer for you.  You’ll have to address your questions to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Services.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  In the latest report, the 1701 report, the Secretary-General told Israel to withdraw from Gaza without any delay.  Do you have any update on that?  What’s the situation now?  And is there any other development about the cluster bombs in Southern Lebanon?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have that.  The new report, 1701 should be available, I assume would be available shortly.

Question:  It is available.

Spokesperson:  It is available.  Okay, so you have it.  So, I don’t have any comment on it at this point.

Question:  What about the cluster bombs?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any additional comment.  Everything you have is in that report.  Mr. Obasanjo…  Okay, he is ready.  Mr. Obasanjo, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region is expected at the Security Council stakeout right now.  Thank you.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.